Dare to Dance in Public’s ‘Pandemania’, Program B: Finding joy and ease amidst difficulty

Dare to Dance in Public's 'Pandemania'.
Dare to Dance in Public's 'Pandemania'.

Streaming from
June 25-July 1, 2021. 

The dancers I love watching most blend ease and effort, flow and structure, mobility and stability. While these elements are paired in opposites that seem mutually exclusive, artistry and deep knowing of one’s physical instrument brings the ability to bring those opposites together. From March 2020 to this very day (although the tide is turning in the right way), many of us have faced unimaginable challenges — isolation, uncertainty, financial stress and the sheer exhaustion that can result from all of that. Yet, just like ease and effort can co-exist, so can difficulty and joy. 

Without disregarding the very real, difficult nature of the mental and emotional duress that comes from challenges in our life, it doesn’t have to take away the things that can make us smile, laugh, dance and otherwise engage in the things that we love most. Program B of Dare to Dance (D2D) in Public’s Pandemania, a virtually-presented curation of short dance films, demonstrated this finding of ease and joy in the midst of duress. As a whole, the films offered a striking range of aesthetic and conceptual approaches, making that demonstration all the stronger.   

Nauris Buksevics’s Virus is a moving illustration of the isolation and fear that COVID brought. In various, eerily empty (and we know why) sites in NYC, solo dancers move with a sense of quiet desperation and fortitude — all in their unique styles of expertise, from flexing to simply intentional walking. A score of newscasters giving the news of the virus’s progression further sets the scene. 

Their masks stand as another reminder of the chilling context at hand. Yet, toward the end, they remove those masks — underscoring that real humanity underlies it all. Ending credits note that COVID is an ongoing pandemic, and that the work is dedicated to those most affected by it — essential workers, survivors and those we lost.

Sam McReynolds’ Proclamation is a striking demonstration of Black joy, resilience and creativity in dance. Scenes of Black Lives Matter protests lead into the slow, gentle movement of one Black dancer on a beach. She drums her fingers on one arm and steps into the rising ride. Her movement picks up speed and size as the R&B-style score intensifies. 

Swinging her arms and bending deep towards the earth below, she moves authentically, freely, unhindered and unafraid. The ending moment is memorable; she smiles slightly towards the camera, and then has a more internal, thoughtful look. We can experience freedom and joy, but making it a constant is a continuous journey. 

Subastian Tan’s Pack Light is a poignant reminder to “pack light” in our lives, to let go of the things that weigh us down. One woman dances with a backpack on a city street, freely and organically but with the weight of the bag making an impact. The film cuts to her moving in nature, amidst tall grass, with no weight on her affecting the quality of her movement. The end offers food for thought — the camera focuses on the backpack, left on the ground, and in the background she looks down at it. Leaving baggage behind is never easy, but it’s worth it.

Zoe Rappaport’s when it gets like this offers soulful movement, just one person moving alone in the free, open space of a rooftop. Camera angles pull viewers into the compelling nuances of how Rappaport’s individual joints move. The camera filter in a light earth tone — almost creating a black and white aesthetic — gives a clean look that allows her movement to be the focus. 

Marta Renzi’s 4th of Deny is another piece focused on protesting against racial injustice — and it’s not your typical dance film. It depicts people of color (and some white people) protesting, but also simply moving and enjoying each other in community. Passionate shouts of “no justice, no peace!” juxtapose saxophone and drums playing a jazzy tune — one that feels incredibly hard not to get up and dance to! We can stand up against injustice and also allow ourselves to create and experience moments of true joy. 

Tom McKenzie’s Geister features continuous, layered movement to the accompaniment of classical musicians. The dancer moves through the rooms of an empty house, over gravel, fields of greenery, and sloped terrain — resolute, tireless, and filled with the impetus to keep moving and keep exploring. The musicians are just as steady in their creative output. 

His white costume bears the imprint of where he’s been — from grass strains to dirt stains — attesting to his moving exploration. His assured footing and groundedness over sometimes difficult terrain is awe-inspiring as well as simply inspiring; maybe we too can find the courage to move over rocky footing. 

Coming out of a time when many of us were confined to our homes, we more deeply understand the human spirit’s desire to move through space and experience what it has to offer. Geister illustrates that with courage and artistic excellence. 

Esther dnagit zimmerman’s Falling Up displays a memorably unique aesthetic, with one dancer moving on a glass surface while filmed below. At times, one limb propels her in a different direction or to a different facing. She pauses, rests, and moves again. At other times she curls up in a sort of fetal position — one of comfort and safety. I think on a feeling of stuckness, how one might attempt to move when they just can’t get up. 

Emma Cianchi’s Hit et Nunc portrays a reflection on the life one has lived through an intriguing and fresh structure. The beginning zooms in on a boy, sitting alone and smiling in a large, empty building. The camera shifts to show a similar looking young man, presumably the young boy grown older. Adults dancers then move in — lifting and being lifted, entwining and unraveling, moving whe back-to-back in support of each other. 

Slowly but assuredly, the camera moves toward an older man — the boy closer to the end of life. The camera angles to show the boy at these three stages of life — while the group dances in between them as if in support and protection. 

The ending shot presents the older man looking in the direction opposite to that which seems to signify moving forward in life, forward through the years, throughout the piece. It is as if he is reflecting on the life lived, courageously and resolutely. This concept, and how Cianchi went about portraying it, isn’t anything quite like I’ve seen done before. It’s quite something for a short dance film to accomplish, but Cianchi’s did so commendably.

The closing piece, Earth Odyssey by Asaf Avidan and Adi Alfan, depicts dancers moving in their homes, joyfully and freely, accompanied by an upbeat score. The variety of bodies and movement qualities in this short montage is a treat to take in. It feels like a celebration of the accomplishment of this program, but also — deeper than that — a celebration of the human spirit to keep moving (literally and metaphorically) despite incredible hardship. 

Difficulty is real, and we freeze or get stalled — yet ultimately, we move again. Thank you to D2D for a program of diverse, excellent dance films illustrating that essential and beautiful perseverance, amongst dance artists and far beyond. 

By Kathryn Boland of Dance Informa.

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